There’s going to be an eclipse? So what?

Why teachers and students should get excited about the eclipse!

Image from NASA

So there is going to be a solar eclipse in the US … for those lucky enough to live in or travel to the path of totality it will get dark for a few minutes and for others they’ll see (using appropriate, SAFE glasses or other viewing device) the Moon cover part of the Sun.

So what? Why should we care much about an eclipse?

It’s a phenomena. “Natural phenomena are observable events that occur in the universe and that we can use our science knowledge to explain or predict. The goal of building knowledge in science is to develop general ideas, based on evidence, that can explain and predict phenomena.” From: Using Phenomena in NGSS-Designed Lessons and Units – This is a “MUST READ” (and its only 3 pages.)

For very young students an eclipse is a great way to build their observation skills (and “wonder” skills too) as well as a chance to explain what they saw and experienced … get them started verbalizing! Have them note that the Moon is out during the day and night whereas the Sun is only seen during the day. Have them note how bright the Sun is … it is dangerous bright!

For older students it is a great ABC’s of science (Activity Before Content) opportunity. Go out days before the eclipse and view the Sun with the glasses or viewer and discuss what is seen. Then observe the eclipse and discuss the different stages the Moon and Sun went through – have them draw it in a step-by-step fashion. After they observe can they model what just happened? How did that work? Why doesn’t that happen more often? Instead of just searching the internet for the answers give them sphere’s (styrofoam balls, tennis and ping pong balls…) and flashlights and see if they can recreate the phenomena in the classroom. Don’t front load how an eclipse works or the vocabulary of eclipses … have them figure it out with you facilitating as little as possible. Remember, an eclipse doesn’t happen every month so just having the spheres cast shadows on each other isn’t the entire explanation … what must be true about orbits for them to happen only intermittently? Have them read (and/or read aloud to them or with them) myths, legends and stories about what people have believed was happening (now that their interest has been aroused).

Why do scientists study eclipses? How do they predict when and where they will happen? What do they see and learn from them and why is that knowledge important to us? These are great questions for students to answer.

Ask a scientist … find a scientist/astronomer/expert that you can video-conference in … show him/her the students modeling what they think happens with their spheres and flashlights as well as asking questions and clarifying what they think they learned (more language skills). Ask the s scientist about how and why they became a scientist as well as about some of the cool things they have studied too.

It is a chance to do some Ambitious Science.

Lots more possibilities as well …

REMEMBER – if it’s cloudy it will be live on TV and the internet. Be eye safe and have fun!

Learning is messy!

STEM Ambassadors Program

Bringing STEM experts into our schools

STEMamb1Beth Wells, the Executive Director of the Nevada STEM Coalition (I’m on their board of directors) asked us to provide a training to STEM professionals that have volunteered to be part of our new STEM Ambassadors program. From the STEM Ambassadors web site:

“The STEM Ambassador Program is a statewide initiative by the Nevada STEM Coalition and partners, designed to connect students with volunteers who use science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) skills in their majors and careers.

Volunteers register on the STEM Coalition website with their availability, interests and skills. Teachers contact the Coalition when they need speakers, project participants, or contest judges. Training is offered for volunteers who would like more knowledge about what to share and what kinds of activities enhance the new Nevada Academic Content Standards in Science.” (Next Generation Science Standards)

We fed them dinner and then got them involved in a hands on engineering activity building a “cart” from a bag of materials …  but no directions. The idea for the activity (which we tweaked a bit) came from FOSS (Full Option Science) out of the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, California. FOSS is really the only hands-on program out right now that is fully aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards and provides all the materials required to facilitate the lessons in a classroom.STEMamb2

After 20 minutes or so each pair had successfully constructed a cart that had rolling wheels. Next we had participants rotate around the room and inspect each others’ designs. They were require to “push” each cart as they inspected it to learn how well each one rolled. We encouraged taking photos of designs they liked and some did.

Next we asked them if all of the designs were the same and they noted that no two were alike. We gave them 8 minutes to incorporate anything they learned into their cart (re-engineer). All changed at least a little, but over half made changes based on designs that rolled better. Half made aesthetic changes to their carts when they noted they still had time. That was a discussion point and the connection to STEAM (adding art to STEM) was noted.







Ramps were set up and the STEM Ambassadors ran trials and collected data on how far their cart would roll from the top of their ramp.





Then we debriefed the data and experience in general.

The goal of the night was to prepare the participants, some from non-profit organizations, some business owners, but all with connections to STEM, to volunteer in schools. We informed them that there were multiple ways they could be involved in promoting and supporting STEM in our schools (see quote above) and we wanted them to be aware of the kinds of activities we were training teachers to facilitate in their classrooms. That way they could better support those kinds of learning experiences and even facilitate and provide the materials for their own hands-on learning piece when they visited schools if it fit their situation – for example if they were a transportation company the activity we did tonight, or one similar would be a great fit.

It was a great night that ended with a round of networking (sharing contact info).

Learning is messy!

A Learning Is Messy Idea Gone Awry?

Looking for ideas here ... any thoughts?

Awhile back on a visit to Boston … specifically at the awesome Museum of Science in Boston to be part of a training on their Engineering Is Elementary curriculum …  I spotted this cool looking paper airplane launcher in the museum store. I’ve seen it for sale in other places since then as well.













I immediately envisioned a powerful hands-on STEM inquiry lesson. Students fold paper airplanes and launch them with this launcher. While doing so they can make adjustments to the design with the goal of the longest flight, or perhaps adjust the angle of launch and through multiple trials ascertain the “best” angle of launch to attain the longest flight … lots of possibilities.

So I gladly bought one and brought it back to Reno. It still sits on a shelf above my desk reminding me of the possibilities it seems to promise. I even had specific classrooms in mind to help develop lessons around it (I’m always on the lookout for inquiry pieces).

So why haven’t I posted here about the great lessons students and teachers have experienced?

Soon after I got back from my trip to Boston I started folding planes (I’ve done this a lot from the time I was a kid … and have experience with paper airplanes in my own classroom over many years as well). I installed batteries in the launcher and started launching! This was going to be my newest great inquiry lesson to develop and I was pumped! Then an issue became apparent. Any thoughts here? What might make this not work as well as I’d hoped? What needs to happen to be able to be able to accumulate data that leads to better design? There are lots of ways to fold planes, and although this launcher requires that fold at the bottom it can “grab” … and that might exclude some designs … there are tons of folds that include that fold it could grab … so no worries there. So what did I find to be the issue?

The issue is …….. it doesn’t throw the planes even “kind of” consistently. To really be of value it would have to be REALLY consistent in how it throws or launches each plane … and students could learn a lot … and it could still be a valuable if it in even threw them fairly consistently … but it doesn’t. It doesn’t throw them in anything even remotely approaching consistency … in my experience. Bummer! I was kinda counting on that … my bad.

Now if I’m missing something here (which I would gladly concede I am) and I’m just doing something “wrong” please let me know. And, actually you could easily use the fact that it “apparently” does not throw the planes in a consistent fashion to teach students about inquiry and the fact that you have to be able to rely on consistent results to gather valuable data … then that turns this into an awesome lesson, right there …  and please feel free to “go there and do that” and share how you got this great idea from me on how to teach students about the importance of collecting completely valid data (you’re welcome). :0)

But otherwise, can you or you and your students see how I can make this a valid inquiry piece? If so … share your idea(s) in the comments here. If not … see my idea above on teaching students about the importance or collecting valid, dependable data. TIA 🙂

Did I mention I paid for the launcher out of my own pocket? I did … and I know that is something that too many people don’t understand that teachers do. So help if you think of how to make this valid inquiry piece! Again, TIA!

Learning is messy!

Two New Updates on the “High Hopes Project”

I got to spend some time today at Cottonwood Elementary School. Students and teachers there are tackling a few of our engineering challenges. I took some photos and wrote a post about the bio-engineering inquiry they are performing over at the High Hopes Project Blog. It’s called “Decomposing Third Graders” or “I saw Third Graders Decomposing At A School Today” – check it out.

Also we shared a post about how just one of the collaborative aspects of this model STEM learning project works – it’s titled: “Just One Collaborative Aspect Of The High Hopes Project” – check it out as well!

Learning is messy!!

The “High Hopes” Are Coming In From Around The World – Share Yours!

Re-posted from the High Hopes Project blog.

Steve Spangler of Steve Spangler Science Tweeted out that he shared a “High Hope” – what about you!

One aspect of the “High Hopes Project” is to demonstrate that when done well, STEM is as powerful a language arts and math learning strategy as any – maybe the best. In addition it not only includes, but relies on the arts and other parts of the curriculum that have been narrowed out recently to convey what has been learned.

We will be collecting and sharing data during the flights (probably 3 to 5 flights total) on temperature, air pressure and water pressure from deep in Lake Tahoe for example. But it is up to you, well mainly your students to do the research about the atmosphere and other science and engineering problems we will explore and predict what will happen. We will share the data we will collect so you and your students can analyze it and come to conclusions about what happened and if your predictions were correct and/or why they weren’t. That’s a powerful piece … even if their predictions prove inaccurate, the learning will still come in figuring out why. So we won’t share what we think will happen, we’ll just explain all the ways we’ll collect data (some in very engaging ways) and the specific data – it’s up to you as the guide and your students as the inquirers to figure out what should and did happen.

Adam Savage from the “Mythbusters” Re-Tweeted” about submitting your “High Hopes” too:

When we first designed the “High Hopes Project” years ago, we went about making sure it stressed not just the powerful content writing experiences about the science and engineering, but the creative writing we knew it would motivate students to engage in. We’ll share more of those along the way, but having students brainstorm, discuss, and share what their “high hopes” for their school, community and the world are turned out to be gold. Most students (maybe adults too) just don’t think about what can and could be.

Originally we had out students write those three “hopes” … school, community … world. We posted general steps. But we have no strict rules about how you submit your “Hopes.” They can be just be one “hope” per student … a “class” hope that the class develops … it is up to you. “Hopes” could also be written as a poem or short story. Once done you submit them here.

Below find some example “High Hopes” that have been submitted already from around the globe. You’ll see different kinds and approaches. Remember that we will print them out on special paper that will decompose quickly … then we will release them from 100,000 feet (33,000 meters) or higher where they will spread around and settle back to the Earth and then become part of the Earth again. Here are some examples:


1. I hope that I will continue getting good grades.
2. I hope that there will be no more racism.
3. I hope that war and terror will stop.


I want to be a author when I grow up. My biggest dream is to be like J.K. Rowling, and write books like the Harry Potter books.


I hope that one day my Mom realizes how much my sisters and I care for, and appreciate her.


My high hope for this school year is to not be afraid to work with decimals and fractions. Another of my high hopes is to not be afraid to be myself. Also my hope is to throw more strikes whenever I am pitching softball. In conclusion, I want to appreciate life each day.


My “High Hope” is for our friend NAME WITHHELD to recover from brain damage and regain the ability to have a normal life.


I hope to go visit my Mom in prison. I haven’t seen her in 3 years.


My High Hope is to get Destiny on Xbox 360 and to get a 20 Microsoft points gift card.


For bullying to STOP! We need to see a day when kids can wake up in the morning and not be scared to go to school. Where kids can BE THEMSELVES without being judged. That is my High Hope.


My High Hope is to keep studying astronomy, and become a NASA engineer, to help my family during hard times.


Some of these are from as far away as Norway and Canada. In the past we have received them from many countries. The age of students is from 2nd grade through high school. Hope these examples help you get a feel for how “High Hopes” can look. But remember, no hard and fast rules.

Send yours soon!

Next Design Challenges for Students in Our High Hopes Project

I’ll probably repost this here in full later, but we just posted an update over on our High Hopes Project blog. Exciting stuff going on, read about it here: Next Design Challenges For Students.



Take a Virtual Field Trip To the Deserts and Grasslands of Africa

I still work with too many teachers that are reluctant to jump into the online learning world with their students because they don’t know how, don’t know how to make connections with classrooms or experts, and other various reasons.

So here is a chance to  jump in to Google Hangouts or YouTube in your classroom. Nature Works and The Nature Conservancy are offering to take you and your students on a virtual field trip to the Grasslands of Africa on February 5, 2015, at 12 pm ET. The Nature Conservancy’s lead scientist in Africa will be teaching the science behind how people and nature can work together. You can learn more about the virtual field trip and sign up to participate here.

This is the first in a series they are offering aimed at students in grades 3 – 8. You and your students can watch the event live using Google Hangout On Air on the Nature Conservancy’s Google + Channel:  The host of the Hangout is Tyler DeWitt, science teacher – his TED talk on making science fun.

or live streaming on YouTube at: 

or if you can’t make the timing work to see it live, it will be available later to watch on their YouTube Channel:


Here is the description of the program from Nature Works and the Nature Conservancy:

The Deserts and Grasslands of Africa

Science and geography, grades 3-8

Thursday, February 5, 2015, 12:00 noon Eastern Time, on YouTube (40 minutes)

Join The Nature Conservancy, PBS LearningMedia, and field scientist Charles Oluchina for a live virtual field trip to Africa to learn how people and nature work together. Your students will visit Burkina Faso and learn how one African farmer invented an ingenious method to help restore forestlands that had been lost to desertification. Then they’ll head to Kenya to learn about the importance of grasslands and how ecotourism has benefited both the people and Kenya’s majestic wildlife. Finally, you and your students will get a firsthand look at a PBS LearningMedia collection of videos, digital games and educational resources from the new PBS series EARTH A New Wild.

So if you’ve been looking for a way to utilize powerful online tools like video-conferencing here’s your chance.

Related Resources for teachers:

PBS LearningMedia’s full collection of educational resources for EARTH A New Wild, a television series.

Learning is messy!

The STEM Missile (really MSTL)

In my job as STEM Learning Facilitator I travel hundreds of miles each month around the 6 counties in my region, but at times all around our state. One of the toughest challenges we face is the technology integration piece.  Many (way too many) educators still possess minimal skills or knowledge in integrating technology, have limited access to technology, are blocked from most online collaboration enabling applications, are unaware of what is available (since it’s blocked) and misinterpret laws protecting students from online dangers. In addition, any use of technology (“We go to the computer lab for 30-45 minutes a week.”) is perceived as implementing the “T” in STEM effectively.

Furthermore, each school district has it’s own network, protected by their own security systems, and they tend to not relinquish access to those networks easily, even for someone coming in to train their educators.

So to enable us to do a much better job of delivering quality professional development (PD) we came up with the idea of a mobile lab to control for many more of the variables of access and hardware that have frustrated us and the participants in the PD sessions we offer.

I’m not going to spend time here explaining fully what led to the choices we made, but know there was thought that went into those choices. Cost was a big factor.

We chose to go with 21 Acer Chromebooks. The lab also contains 3 Verizon Mobile Hotspots so we have connectivity almost everywhere we take the lab that isn’t filtered, and 21 waterproof digital cameras so we can model integration and archive teachers’ learning to their own free Flickr accounts which we set up during trainings. The wireless hubs also enable showcasing and utilizing applications like blogs, wikis, Twitter and more during trainings and presentations so educators and administrators can perceive their education value. Thankfully, this also tends to foster discussion about safety and other issues that we can then deal with in an open way based on at least this initial experience.

MSTL Chromebooks


Right now the lab sits in plastic tubs, but part of our plan is to develop a cheap, light transportation system that will also keep the components of the lab in good shape. We already have some ideas for that that I plan to share later.


(Below right) 21 Fuji digital cameras being charged for the first time – we chose these because they have fewer moving parts (the lenses don’t open and shut like most point and shoot cameras do these days), they are waterproof to 10 meters deep and are purported to survive being dropped from 5 feet … so hopefully they will take a bit more rough handling and if the opportunity arises could be used underwater … we’ll see. MSTL Cameras



We’ve already had some success, even before obtaining the MSTL (Mobile STEM Technology Lab), in persuading one reluctant school district to open up blogs, wikis and Flickr on a trial basis to one school. We had discussions with teachers, administrators and school board members and demonstrated the educational value they were missing and explained that they would not be losing their E-Rate funding (a common misconception) if they allowed access to any social networking applications.

That promising experience actually helped us secure the funding for the MSTL.

We tried out the MSTL in a training last week in a classroom in the center of a high school with a very low, heavy metal ceiling and lots of suspended metal ductwork. We suspected in advance that that would slow connectivity, and it did, but we also know that most of the training sites we utilize don’t have that issue (and we’ve used the hubs in these locations and achieved good connectivity), so we are confident. I’ll keep you apprised of how things go!

Learning is messy!

Beginning the Year Activities

I’ve written this blog post before because I found building the community in the classroom so crucial. Why wait? Start off right away giving students opportunities and experiences that lead to a collaborative atmosphere.

Beginning of the Year Classroom Learning Activities,” –  I posted last year and it explains some of my favorite activities and includes links to longer more explicative versions.

Every Piece of the Puzzle is Important” – is a great project that teaches simple word processing and printing skills while demonstrating how we are all stronger when we realize what strengths we each bring to the group.

The Important Book, A Writing Lesson” – is a very popular post on this blog. Not only is it a great way to teach paragraphing, I use it to teach writing blog posts but especially blog comments.

Have a great start to your year!

Learning is messy!

What a Hoot!

Last Friday my wife and I were invited up to Galena Creek Park just outside of Reno, Nevada, to participate in a program designed to inform the general public and educators about the learning opportunities provided there by the Great Basin Institute. In addition we witnessed the release of 8 owls into the wild – 4 Great Horned Owls and 4 Barn Owls. These were owls that were cared for and rehabilitated by The Wild Animal Infirmary For Nevada.

DSC01266A Barn Owl ready for release.







A screeching Barn Owl – not more than 6 months old about to be released into the wild:

As I watched each owl being released I couldn’t help but think about creative writing assignment ideas. Mostly about how students could research the daily habits of barn owls and/or great horned owls and then write stories (which could easily become blog posts, podcasts, and so much more) about the experience from the point of view of an observer or from the owl itself.

A Great Horned Owl being released:

I’d brainstorm with my students what the owl would experience in being orphaned or injured. The rehabilitation experience. Then being in the box on the way to the park, being taken out of the car … sitting waiting to be released (is the owl aware of what is about to happen … or not?). Then being released … at dusk … its getting dark … is that scary for a young owl … or an adventure? You’ve never been on your own before … what is happening … you land in a tree not far from where you were released … what do you see, think, do?

You’ve got that incredible vision … what do you see? What could be scary? Fun? Interesting? …. So many possibilities.

It was a great night.

Photo of the sky that nightDSC01268






Link to the Flickr photo/video set of more owl releases.

Learning is messy!